Groundbreaking physicist receives University Fellowship honour
A groundbreaking physicist who theorised the particle known as "Higgs Boson" was awarded an Honorary Fellowship by Swansea University today (Friday, July 18).
Professor Peter Higgs was awarded the Fellowship during the degree ceremony for the School of Physical Sciences.
Professor Higgs was born in Newcastle and attended schools in Birmingham and Bristol. He first became interested in particle physics after attending lectures by Nobel laureates Cecil Powell and Nevill Mott.
He went on to study the subject at both undergraduate and postgraduate level at King's College London, leading to special interest in the problems of elementary particles.
However, Professor Higgs’ doctoral studies focussed on Theoretical Chemistry and he wrote his PhD thesis in 1954 on the vibration spectra of molecules.
In 1955, he took up a Senior Fellowship at Edinburgh University to resume his study of particle physics. He returned to Edinburgh in 1960 following brief spells in London at both University and Imperial Colleges.
It was in the summer of 1964 that Professor Higgs developed his theory, which predicted the existence throughout space of a charged “condensate”, which renders massive all other particles passing through it.
In a paper, he showed this implied the existence of a new elementary particle, which unlike all others known does not spin. Today, this particle is called the Higgs Boson.
The power and scope of Professor Higgs’ idea was quickly recognised by other theorists, and by 1967 the Higgs Boson was incorporated into what has become known as the Standard Model of Particle Physics.
He continued his career at Edinburgh University, becoming Reader in 1970 and assumed a Personal Chair in Theoretical Physics in 1980.
Professor Higgs’ achievements have been recognised by the scientific community through the award of the 1997 Dirac Medal of the Institute of Physics, the 1997 High Energy and Particle Physics Prize of the European Physical Society, and the 2004 Wolf Prize in Physics.
This summer, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN (the world's largest particle physics laboratory) in Geneva, built over 10 years at the cost of several billion pounds, is due to begin its mission to discover the Higgs Boson in the highest energy particle collisions ever studied.
The leader of the construction team of the LHC is the Swansea Honorary Fellow and Physics graduate, Dr Lyndon Rees Evans who designed much of the instrumentation of earlier particle accelerators at CERN.
Widely anticipated within the next two to three years, it promises to be the most exciting scientific breakthrough in a generation – and if successful, Professor Higgs is himself tipped as a future Nobel Prize recipient.
Retaining his links with Swansea, Professor Higgs has previously given lectures at Swansea University during National Science Week and has taught two current members of the Physics Department as research students, including Professor Simon Hands who presented Professor Higgs to receive his Fellowship today.
Speaking after receiving the award, Professor Higgs said: “It’s a great honour for me to receive this Honorary Fellowship from Swansea University today. It’s also been a pleasure to renew my acquaintance with many former colleagues and friends who have been associated with Edinburgh University at one time or another.”
Professor Simon Hands said: “I am delighted the University has recognised one of the UK's foremost scientists. Peter's achievements in physics have profoundly changed the way we view the world at the sub-atomic level, and are a testament to the breadth of his knowledge and scope of his curiosity.”
Swansea University’s Vice-Chancellor, Professor Richard B Davies, added: “Professor Peter Higgs represents the epitome of world-class research excellence, for which Swansea University continually strives.
“His breakthrough Higgs Boson theory is monumental in the field of particle physics research and it is truly a privilege that he can now be counted as one of Swansea’s Honorary Fellows.”
For more information about Swansea University Graduation Week and this year’s Honorary Fellows, visit the Graduation website.